Tuesday, July 24, 2012

California State Parks Fund Hoarding - An Opinion

If you live in California (and, I suspect, even if you don't), chances are really good you've heard about the Secret Fund Scandal that recently rocked the State Parks Department.

You can read more about it here and here.

Since this story broke, I've seen calls for the director to be jailed, have her social security benefits revoked (what?), be strung up by her pull string, etc., etc., you get the point.

Here's the thing.

No matter how many times you say that running the government is the same as running a business, that doesn't make it so. The Chief or Director or Big Boss Honcho (let's use "Chief" for short) of a department of the government can't just log into their bank's online account management and see how much cashola is in there. Pretty much, they are dependent upon the people who they have hired to manage this information for them. Typically, they don't even do the hiring directly. Often, the Chief hires the person who hires the person who hires the person in charge of keeping track of money for the department. Did you follow that? Right. Sometimes, the Chief isn't even the one that hired the next person down. That person may have been hired by a predecessor or they may have been appointed by a governor.

The point I'm trying to make is that the Chief has to trust that her staff is giving her the correct information. Almost always, she doesn't really have a recourse to double check the information, and, unless she sees cause to, wouldn't double check it, anyway.

Something else you need to know about how state offices are run is that the money a department takes in is not the same as the money it spends. Each Department is given a budget that is specified within the General Budget (even special fund offices which earn their own money and don't rely on the General Fund). This budget dictates how much the office can spend and on what. This budget and, specifically, changes to this budget operate independently of how much money is actually earned in a given a year and how much money is in the office's account. If an office needs to make a change to this budget, say, for example, because the rent for the office has increased, the office has to draft a Budget Change Proposal, which has to be approved by all manner of nosey finance people before it can be approved and changed in the budget. For the next fiscal year.

So having $54 Million does not mean getting to spend $54 Million.

Not even if anybody knew about the money.

Not even if it meant parks staying open.

In this instance, it does not appear that the Parks Director knew this money was being hoarded, which I don't doubt. It also appears that the underreporting of funds started before she took office as the director. Finally, it's not like she was using the funds for personal gain.

I have no idea how exactly this happened, who was responsible, or what is going to happen to the money (although if you're hoping it reverts for the use of the Parks Department, I would advise against breath holding).

At the end of the day, though, why do we feel the need to make this a personal assault? Ruth Coleman resigned because it was the right thing to do. Because the Chief is always responsible, even when she had no idea it was going on. That's part of the whole "being the boss" thing. It's all on you.

Maybe my opinion of this situation will change once the full story comes out, but, for now... Good on you, Ruth Coleman, for taking one for the team. Multi-million dollar earning CEO's won't do it. Nope.

It takes a civil servant.

No comments: